by Joseph Roberts
photo: Luc Santerre Castonguay
Food was always very important, the author said on the radio as she dedicated her new cookbook to her mother “who instilled in her a love of food”.
Food is important, in many ways and for many reasons. In many different delicious cultures there are very distinct eating habits, but we all have something in common: we all eat.
Books abound with food for thought: The Food Revolution, Power of Superfoods, Fields of Plenty, Vegan Delights, Real Foods for a Change, No More Bull, Eating My Words, Chef’s Table, New Ethics of Eating, Feed Your Genes Right, The Joy of Cooking, and even The End of Food.
Yes, we all eat – at least those of us who are fortunate to live in places where food exists. Many just scrape by, and the even less fortunate die of starvation.
Soil, water, and sun are so intertwined with food on this good earth. I hold an almond in my hand: how did it get here where did it come from, who help it grow? So many questions. Each nut is a seed capable of growing into a huge beautiful tree which in turn brings forth the next generation of almond flowers which produce pollen for the bees. The mystery of life to continues.
Humans are not the only animals who cherish nuts and seeds. The branches of the birch tree outside my window are home to many seed-eating birds and squirrels. We are each and all part of a magical natural cycle. As the grey and black squirrels scurry about on autumn’s gold-leafed branches, people scurry about in traffic and in their homes. While the wilder creatures hunt and gather directly from the source of their sustenance, we too search out our foods – but usually in more indirect and complex manners.
What we choose to eat is based on our beliefs, our customs.
Where our foods come from, what soil or water they use, how they are grown and produced makes the difference between life giving or disease making. As we learn and evolve we learn what matters about food.
Access to nutritious food from sustainable sources is a primary responsibility of any functional culture. May all beings be fed and may all beings be happy.
A decade ago, at an organic food conference, women from rural India told of their fight to keep their village’s soil and food clean of toxins. A t-shirt message starkly read, “Food without poison is a must for life”. They were in a battle to keep high tech patented genetically altered terminator seeds, and their accompanying chemical herbicides, from displacing hereditary seeds which had, for thousands of years, reproduced life giving free seeds. The gap between the corporate food-for-profit agenda and grassroots sustainable food-for-families was graphic. Monsanto, the same corporation that sued Percy Schmeiser in Canada over copyrighted GMO products, was involved over in India as well.
Health food matters.
When a food product shows up on a store shelf, it is only as good as its ingredients, and the skills and care of its handlers. And the ingredients are only as healthy as the soil it comes from.
We look at food with various levels of understanding. Sometimes companies that manipulate foods intentionally hide the real nature of what they produce. In Canada, for example, labelling genetically modified food is voluntary. Given that most informed eaters would shun GMO products, voluntarily disclosing that their product contain GMOs is not likely to happen. Deceptive labelling can deceive by omission.
Prior to the industrial chemical revolution there were natural methods of preserving certain foods, drying or pickling being two examples. Chemical preservatives now promise longer shelf life so the product can sit around – sometimes for years – and still be sold. These food products get consumed much later than nature would normally allow. Some preservatives are more natural but most modern ones are synthetic and toxic. It gets tricky when natural-sounding additives are used to greenwash or hide other preservatives. A case in point happened in Canada with the combining of ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate in the cheap two litre plastic bottles of orange looking soda pop sold in supermarkets. The synthetic vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid chemically reacted to the sodium benzoate when the pop was left out of the fridge and in the sunshine on a hot summer afternoon. The ascorbic acid broke down the sodium benzoate into sodium and benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Unwittingly, thirsty people gulped down the sugar-coated poison thinking it was okay.
So as we eat our way through a lifetime of food, we absorb what is in our diet. Like the proverbial frog in hot water we slowly get cooked. If we eat food with carcinogens we toxify our cells, some even to the point of immune collapse where diseases take over the organism.
Food of course is not the only vector of unwanted contaminants, but it is one we do have a some choice over. We can eat the highly refined, sugar, salt, preservative-laden unfresh food, or an apple, avocado or pumpkin seeds for snacks each day.
We make ourselves healthy or unhealthy one bite at a time. And how we chew our food matters too, in whether we assimilate what we consume. Chewing our liquids and drinking our solids engages our mouth saliva to begin the process of digestion. Remember, if our teeth do not chew our foods then our stomach must.
The Canadian Health Food Association selected November as National Natural Food Month in Canada. What a beautiful time of year to be reminded of health with all the lush colour of maple leaves. Colour is an important indicator of how rich in vitamins and minerals certain foods are. May autumn inspire us to choose fruits and vegetables of deep hues for deeper nutrition. Products carefully manufactured from such green, red, blue, purple, orange mineral-laden ingredients form great supplements to augment our diet.
Whole foods are the way nature initially provides humans with abundance. Eat as much fresh raw food as you can. Cook foods in ways that release their nutrients, but avoid overheating and use utensils that are not toxic. Keep food from having contact with aluminum, Teflon or other non-slip plastic compounds. Avoid microwave ovens because they alter the food on an electron level and release free radicals linked to aging and cancer. Don’t be a guinea pig. There are other less intrusive ways to prepare what we eat.
Intention effects what ends up on our plate. Those that link our mouths with the original source of sustenance need to honour and respect natural cycles. Principles are more important than pretty packaging when it comes to health and the quality or goodness shows up in the details.
Think of foods as having benefits or side effects as do drugs. Most people would not take drugs if they understood the harm. But they do, because they are not well informed, or believe in so-called experts who would never take the very same drugs they prescribe. In the UK, adverse drug reactions kill about 10,000 (a nasty “side effect”) every year, whereas car accident kill about 3,000. Drugs, like cigarettes, are profitable but they also make people sick. The costs are sloughed off to the society rather than the manufacturer being held liable for the damage caused. In Canada we do not allow direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising as they do in the USA. Twenty five per cent of TV ads in the USA are drug commercials. The effect is that Americans spend about 50 per cent more on drugs than Canadians.
Three hundred billion dollars are spent on drugs in North America annually, much of which is advertising induced and unnecessary. Many side effects occur for which yet more drugs are prescribed. The combination of drugs bring unexpected results. How many well intended, obedient elders come to harm following their multiple prescriptions religiously? Their A to Z plastic pill organizers give them a false sense of control in an overly chemicalized world, further numbed by loneliness, alcohol and TV (with its booze and drugs ads).
When in doubt, use natural nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to improve your well-being.
Junk food compromises one’s health to the point of disease because, besides containing toxins, it lacks the basis nutrients needed for bodies to function well. This leads to attempts to rectify the situation with drugs, which can contribute to premature death. These unhealthy faux-foods may make a killing for their producers, but eventually sicken their user. There is an unholy synergy between crappy foods, sedentary lifestyles, pill pushers and pharmaceutical profits.
Nature eventually wins out in the long run. The laws of ecology do not go away. Every thing is connected to everythings else, and, we all live down stream from the source and processing of our food. Likewise, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Bad nutrition and toxic food extract their toll in human suffering. Just as one vitamin can cure so many illnesses, so can the deficiency of a vitamin or mineral cause disease. Vitamins, mineral, fibre, and other nutriments – coupled with rest, fresh air and pH balanced clean water – enable a body to be nourished and heal.
Imagine the social impact of chronic well-being and a highly contagious epidemic of health. Well-informed and inspired people choosing their foods wisely with care, respect and gratitude. The joy of healthy food spreads like wildfire across our land nourishing all in its path. People stop hurting themselves with unconscious habits around food. We honour the land along with the energy required to grow and deliver foods to market. There is an awaking of compassion for all those who hunger to better organize and distribute nature’s abundance so all are fed. Health Canada sees the light, reverses its drug-heavy approach to treating disease, and invests money to prevent disease.
You may say we are dreamers but we are not the only ones.
In 1976 Mother Teresa came to Vancouver’s Habitat for Humanity where she spoke of a hunger that bread cannot satisfy. It is a hunger to be touched, a hunger to be loved and a hunger to belong.
As we celebrate our healthy food choices, let’s remember those who have much less than us. Though most starving people live in countries ruined by geopolitical greed and environmental degradation, there are those in our land who are also hungry. Some are malnourished from junk food or poor eating habits, others from hard emotional, mental and financial times. Some are on drugs, some are not. Some smoke and drink, others don’t. But we all eat, and as challenging as it gets, if it is not us, who will be our brothers or sisters keeper?
By helping others, magically we too are helped. We are related, we belong.
So share some food with a street person or a neighbour you haven’t yet met. Take time to see him or her fully as a person and part of the larger human family, a fellow traveller in this world of wonders. We each have our story to tell and our need to be heard. Break bread with the beggar on the street; share a handful of grapes. This too is a remembrance. Like the almond, we are a human tree capable of spreading comfort and joy. Spice life with compassion so we too can nourish our deep spirit inside.